From Playing Cards to Banknotes: The History of Thomas De La Rue

Posted on 7/21/2015

In the world of banknotes, there have been few actors that have been as influential as the printing company De La Rue.

De La Rue plc (DLR) was founded by Thomas De La Rue in 1813 in Guernsey, where he helped print a small paper called Le Miroir Politique. He eventually moved his business to London where he printed playing cards. The company continued to expand for the next few decades as they printed stamps for the many territories controlled by the British Empire. Finally, in 1860, DLR burst into the paper money world by printing its first banknotes. They were the £1, £5 and 10 shilling notes for the island of Mauritius. The company would later print for other countries, including China in 1930. By 2003, DLR had proved its effectiveness and began to take over responsibility for the production of banknotes for the Bank of England. For more than 200 years, the company has managed to survive, expand, outperform and eventually buy out many of its competitors including Harrison & Sons, Bradbury Wilkinson & Company, and Waterlow & Sons. Today, it is the largest security printer and papermaker in the world with over 150 nations using the company to print their currency.

De La Rue Playing Card

How a country prints its currency varies throughout the world. In the United States, the designing and printing of banknotes is done strictly by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, a government agency. Only the creation of the paper is contracted out through a private company. In other countries, governments have private companies create and print their currency. This is a tremendous responsibility for a company as they are entrusted with the financial stability of a country. As seen in my previous article on Alves Reis, if a company isn’t careful they could end up printing banknotes for the wrong people and throw an economy into disarray.

The Government of Mauritius One Pound Note

As counterfeiting has become more advanced, banknotes have had to combat this problem by updating their security features. DLR has adapted by creating more polymer notes and using the color-shifting ink. Today, DLR has expanded past banknotes and into other security services such as passports and identity cards. They also manufacture devices to help with the counting and sorting of currency. Having lasted over 200 years and seeing their main competitors come and go, DLR has proven effective at adapting to changing times. However, as the world begins to change to a more cashless society, with people using debit and credit cards much more than paper money, only time will tell if DLR will find itself becoming obsolete or adapting once again.


PMG is an independent member of the Certified Collectibles Group (CCG).

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